The Poynter Institute’s International Fact Checking Network (IFCN), today launched a WhatsApp chatbot that will be used to dispel rumours around the coronavirus and other fake news. The bot allows users to ask questions about the virus or look at latest fact checks published by official fact checkers from both India and overseas.
“Chatbots are among the new tools that fact-checkers have been using to widen their audiences and automate some of their workflows to reply to the inquiries they get from them," said Baybars Orsek, Director, IFCN. “Users need to reach authouritative information has been exponentially increasing during a crisis like this, therefore we at the IFCN also decided to invest in this area," Orsek added.
Chatbots have been a common solution for increasing the flow of credible information during the pandemic. Other than the IFCN, WhatsApp has also partnered with governments, including many in India, and other organisations to create such solutions. “According to ComScore, news and information is the number one content category consumed in India, as compared to entertainment worldwide," said Orsek.
Of course, WhatsApp isn’t the only social platform that has worked with fact checkers during the pandemic. Parent company, Facebook, has partnered with 8 fact checkers in India and many more worldwide, to deal with the distribution of fake news on the platform. Other than such efforts, Orsek said social media companies need to “be more transparent" about fake news on their platforms and their reach. “While there is no silver bullet to address this problem, the baseline for social media companies should be more transparency and communication with the stakeholders," he added.
The growth of misinformation during the pandemic has been a real problem worldwide. According to most fact-checkers, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, WhatsApp and pretty much all others have been vulnerable to the spread of misinformation. In fact, in an earlier interview with Mint, Saurabh Shukla, founder and editor-in-chief of NewsMobile, an IFCN certified Indian fact-checker, said TikTok has been the “biggest culprit" in the dissemination of fake news.
Facebook recently announced that it has displayed warnings on about 40 million posts related to covid-19 on the platform, based on 4000 articles by its fact checking partners.
According to Orsek, the fact-checking industry has also seen growth in recent times. “We see more and more organizations applying to IFCN’s Code of Principles certification," he said. In 2019, the number of organisations applying for IFCN’s certification more than doubled as compared to those in 2018, according to Orsek. The number of IFCN verified signatories also rose from 60 in 2018, to 90, spanning 48 countries in total.